4th July 2017

Shocking report by Children’s Commissioner reveals millions of children in England living vulnerable or high risk lives

  • Over half a million children so vulnerable that the state has to step in
  • 670,000 children in England growing up in ‘high risk’ family situations
  • Thousands of children living with adults in treatment for drink or drugs
  • 800,000 children suffering from mental health difficulties
  • Tens of thousands of children involved with gangs
  • Over a thousand new child victims of slavery each year
  • Many more children under the radar, not being seen

The Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, is today (Tuesday 4 July) publishing new analysis that reveals, for the first time, the scale of vulnerability among children in England. ‘The Children’s Commissioner’s Report on measuring the number of vulnerable children’ brings together a range of information held by various government departments, agencies and others. Its initial analysis reveals a host of shocking statistics about the number of children living in vulnerable situations.

  • Almost 700,000 children are living in families that have vulnerabilities, including over 15,000 children living with an adult receiving alcohol treatment and nearly 12,000 living with an adult in drug treatment.
  • 580,000 children – equivalent to the population of Manchester – are so vulnerable that the state has to step in and provide direct care, intervention or support.
  • 370,000 children whose actions have put their futures at risk, including 160,000 children temporarily or permanently excluded from school in England.
  • 800,000 children aged 5 to 17 suffer mental health disorders.
  • 200,000 children are judged by their local authority to have experienced trauma or abuse.
  • An estimated 46,000 children are thought to be part of a gang.
  • 119,000 children are homeless or living in insecure or unstable housing.
  • 170,000 children are estimated to do unpaid caring for family members, of which many have not been identified and offered support.
  • 1,200 children are newly identified victims of modern slavery per year.

However, these figures are only the tip of the iceberg.

Many of the figures published in the report are likely to underestimate the actual number of children living vulnerable lives: many children are ‘invisible’ because they are not reported to services, or because of worrying gaps in available data. Over the next year the Commissioner will use her unique statutory powers to request data from local authorities, Government departments and others to fill in these gaps.

The aim of the report is to shine a light on the nature and scale of children’s vulnerability in England and to look at how the thousands of ‘invisible’ children can be better identified. The report provides a set of 32 groups of children that have come to be associated with forms of vulnerability or risk.

Today’s report is the first stage in a long-term programme of work which the Children’s Commissioner will carry out on vulnerability. It starts with tackling the bewildering confusion about what counts as vulnerability. We will now consult broadly on these definitions and develop a framework that can be used widely.

At the moment different criteria are often applied to the term “vulnerable” by different agencies involved with children and sometimes the same criteria are used but the term “vulnerable” isn’t. Clarifying this unhelpful situation is not just a matter of efficiency and common sense but vital to reaching vulnerable children.

Behind the confusion are unidentified and invisible children, suffering a variety of harms and risks. The Children’s Commissioner argues in her report that Government must do more to collect better data, and questions how effectively the problems outlined in the report can be tackled if departments and agencies don’t know how many children are affected or cannot agree on how to define and therefore identify them.

Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England, launching the report, said:

“It is shocking that half a million children – a number equivalent to the entire population of Manchester – need direct intervention or care from the state because they are living vulnerable lives. On top of that there are many hundreds of thousands of other children growing up in potentially high-risk situations.

“Yet even more shocking is that this is only the tip of the iceberg. The actual numbers are likely to be much higher. The truth is nobody knows the exact number of vulnerable children. We can trace in minute detail the academic progress of a child from 4 to 18 and beyond, but when it comes to describing and assessing the scale of negative factors in a child’s life which will hamper their progress, we are floundering.

“What we do know is that even these numbers are unacceptably high. Our ambition as a nation should be for all our children to live happy and healthy lives. This report shows that millions are not doing so – and that has to change.”